Linda Ronstadt spent a good portion of her childhood stretched out on the cool cement floor of her family’s house in Tucson, Arizona, a small radio grafted to her ear. All she ever wanted to do was sound like the singers on the radio and in 1964, at the age of 18, she took off for Hollywood with $30 in her pocket. Her career had an indifferent beginning but took a dramatic turn for the better in 1974 when she asked Peter Asher, of the briefly popular British duo Peter and Gordon, to become her producer. Together they have put out five enormously successful albums, making Ronstadt the undisputed queen of rock in the late ’70s. Her latest, Living in the U.S.A., is being distributed now, with purchase orders already guaranteeing “double-platinum” (over a million) sales.
Having fulfilled her childhood ambition, Ronstadt, at the age of 32, finds herself living in a world bordering on fantasy. The constant touring, the enormous wealth (she reportedly earned more than $3 million one year in record royalties alone), the gossip-page associations with other celebrities—all are part of that life. She has never married and she has never completely resigned herself to her life as a rock star. She spoke with Maclean's contributing editor Philip Fleishman.
Maclean’s: There must be a lot of positive aspects to life at the top of the rock business.
Ronstadt: Very few. One time I was on my way home from town, and there was a movie that I wanted to go to, and I had just enough money in my wallet to get into the movie; I didn’t have enough left over for popcorn. The guy at the popcorn counter asked me for an autograph if he gave me the popcorn. That’s about the only advantage I’ve been able to think of in the last four years, you know, in terms of being recognized by the public.
Maclean’s: How do you cope as a woman in a sexually charged, maledominated world?
Ronstadt: Oh, I do a lot of knitting. Sure it presents problems, but none that are insurmountable. You know, there are a lot of women I know in the music business that like to say, “Oh, well I just couldn’t make it because, you know, the men held me back,” and all this sort of female chauvinist bull. And it just seems to me that the better I got at what I did, the less trouble I had from that kind of attitude. I mean, basically musicians are musicians, they just want to play and they just want to have their music be good, you know. Sometimes people get crushes on each other, but that can be handled with a certain amount of sensitivity; you know, tact and diplomacy. I don’t like musicians anyway. I don’t like anybody unless they wear a suit any more. I went through musicians in my 20s and I wrote off actors in my teens. Emotionally they’re a bad investment, I think. Maclean’s: Are there strong sexual pressures on you?
Ronstadt: I’d like to find some sexual pressures. Let me tell you they’re few and far between on the road. To tell you the truth, I don’t talk to anybody except for the band, you know, and my road manager. First of all, there isn’t time. Either we’re going to where we’re going to play or we’re going away from where we’re going to play or we’re on an airplane flying to the next town or else I’m sleeping, or else I’m taking a bath. Those are the choices that you have on the road. Sexual pressures? I haven’t noticed any lately, much to my chagrin. Maclean’s: Do you see yourself as a commodity?
Ronstadt: Well of course, but that’s obvious, you know. I mean, I’m able I’m sure, at the age of 32 to separate who I am as a person from who I am as a commodity, you know. If you can’t separate yourself from that, then you don’t have a chance. In a business sense, I am thought of as a commodity, but that’s right. I mean, they should think of it that way; they’re trying to merchandise something specific, so that’s fine. I hope they’re trying to sell me.
Maclean’s: How much is it all costing you in terms of your personal life? Ronstadt: There is no way to calculate it. I mean, if there were two of me and I could have gone off in two different directions maybe we could have taken a yardstick and said I have this much happiness, you know, married with children, I have this much happiness banging around the world as a rock and roll singer. Who knows? I wasn’t very happy when I was little. I’m sort of happy now. I’m sort of not happy now. Happiness is not a fixed state, a condition, you know. It is something that you experience now and again, and for me, every now and again, when you connect with a real good friend or fall in love for 10 minutes or whatever you do, you know, or discover a new song that I love to sing and am successful at bringing it off in exactly the attitude and the style in interpreting it in the way that I want to interpret it, that makes me happy for a while.
Maclean’s: Do you feel any responsibility to support a particular political party?
Ronstadt: Absolutely none. I think it would distract from what I’m trying to do. I can remember, after finding out that John Wayne was a right winger, going to one of his movies and saying, “He’s a right winger, wow.” I mean, who cares?
Maclean’s: But you do obviously have very strong political beliefs.
Ronstadt: I don’t have any political beliefs. I have none. Some of my political ideas are incredibly conservative . . . some of them are probably incredibly liberal, but I have no real convictions. Maclean’s: What are vital issues in your life at this point?
Ronstadt: I don’t really have any longrange goals. I try to improve the quality of my work and I try to improve the quality of craftsmanship in my music. I’ve sort of been thinking that maybe I’d get another job someday, but it gave me the hives once when I thought about it, so then I stopped thinking about it. Maclean’s: What sort of job?
Ronstadt: I don’t know. That was, well, why I got the hives, I think, because I don’t know how to do anything else. I never even learned how to add. I can sing and read. Those are the two things I know how to do. I’m sort of good at knitting, but not great. But I don’t suppose I’d want... I mean, I don’t really like to perform very much, so . . . and also, you can’t do it forever, you know. I mean, you just can’t just be going on the road forever. It’s just too hard on you physically, for one thing. And it’s so boring.
Maclean’s: Is it very hard to have emotional stability with somebody else in the world you live in?
Ronstadt: It must be very hard, because I’ve never managed it yet. But I don’t know how much I’ve actually tried, you know. I haven’t given it a lot of thought lately.
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